Cycle of openings, closings common for clubs catering to black customersby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — Gabby's Saloon in northeast Minneapolis may soon get a new owner and a new look. That change will mean the end for a popular weeknight attraction for hundreds of African-American club goers.
It's also the latest episode in what some call the colorful and troubling history of Twin Cities night spots that cater to black customers.
The woman who's buying Gabby's -- Leslie Bock, owner of nearby Psycho Suzi's Tiki Lounge -- says she plans to change the entertainment format. The predominantly black crowds that flocked there for hip hop and ladies nights will likely migrate somewhere else.
LONG LIST OF CLOSED CLUBS
Nightclubs constantly come and go -- or change owners -- for lots of different reasons. There have been so many comings and goings that Ray Seville, the underwriting manager for KMOJ radio, has to write them down to help him remember.
"Twenty-five, 30 of 'em! They all closed, come and gone," Seville said.
For the last few decades, Seville has been a disc jockey and hosted parties at clubs around the Twin Cities. Seville runs down a list of former nightspots that attracted African Americans, including Norma Jean's, Sylvia's, Cato Club, Escape Ultra Lounge. He pauses when he gets to the Riverview Supper Club.
"I love the Riverview, and a lot of people do miss it, even though in its later years it got to be rough and tough," he said.
One night near closing time in 2000, a man who was tossed out of the Riverview returned with a gun and wounded two security guards and a patron. The shooting was reportedly the final straw for the Fuller family, who'd owned the nightspot for 50 years. The Riverview closed its doors in 2001 and was eventually torn down and replaced by condominiums.
Seville said violence is not exclusive to clubs frequented by African Americans, but he said there is a young, male 'knucklehead' contingency that can quickly give a club a bad name.
Seville said there's plenty of responsibility to go around -- starting with the knuckleheads themselves. But he said ultimately if a club owner wants to stay in business, they've got to do a better job of weeding out the riffraff.
"There's a few bad apples out there," he said. "Those are the ones you gotta keep out the club. Or you check 'em and say, 'Look, you want to continue coming here? You need to stop what you're doing.'"
Sometimes the way people behave outside a nightclub is the issue. The Minneapolis Police Department said that over the last two years, Gabby's Saloon generated nearly 200 calls for service. Many of the calls were for fights, loud music and other disturbances. Most of the calls were logged at or near the 2 a.m. bar-closing time.
Chris Gams, with the Bottineau Neighborhood Association, said the noise was the worst.
"People just being loud after a night out," he said. "Walking right by, within 20 feet of a house and just being loud; getting into arguments; getting into cars and cranking the stereos."
In 2008, the city tried to force the bar to correct some of these issues by putting conditions on Gabby's liquor license. But Gabby's sued the city and won.
The court ruled that the city couldn't prove the problems were caused by Gabby's patrons. Gabby's owner also said the city's actions were motivated by discrimination, because most of the noise complaints occurred on nights when the club featured hip hop music. The surrounding neighborhood is mostly white.
But Chris Gams said neighbors' complaints were not race-based.
"It's 2:30 in the morning. If you're woken up, you're woken up, it really doesn't make that much difference," Gams said.
Jeff Ormond, the owner of Gabby's Saloon, did not return calls asking if he was selling the bar because of the neighborhood complaints and legal issues with the city.
It probably won't be hard for patrons to find somewhere else to go. Ray Seville at KMOJ said the "black nights" -- special nights which attract African American club goers -- are lucrative for the clubs. But he said that doesn't mean the cycle of openings, closings and ownership changes will end anytime soon.
- All Things Considered, 06/25/2010, 4:55 p.m.